The New York City Business Atlas: Leveling the Playing Field for Small Businesses with Open Data

Chapter by Stefaan Verhulst and Andrew Young in Smarter New York City:How City Agencies Innovate. Edited by André Corrêa d’Almeida: “While retail entrepreneurs, particularly those operating in the small-business space, are experts in their respective trades, they often lack access to high-quality information about social, environmental, and economic conditions in the neighborhoods where they operate or are considering operating.

The New York City Business Atlas, conceived by the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics (MODA) and the Department of Small Business Services, is designed to alleviate that information gap by providing a public web-based tool that gives small businesses access to high-quality data to help them decide where to establish a new business or expand an existing one. e tool brings together a diversity of data, including business-fling data from the Department of Consumer Affairs, sales-tax data from the Department of Finance, demographic data from the census, and traffic data from Placemeter, a New York City startup focusing on real-time traffic information.

The initial iteration of the Business Atlas made useful and previously inaccessible data available to small-business owners and entrepreneurs in an innovative manner. After a few years, however, it became clear that the tool was not experiencing the level of use or creating the level of demonstrable impact anticipated. Rather than continuing down the same path or abandoning the effort entirely, MODA pivoted to a new approach, moving from the Business Atlas as a single information-providing tool to the Business Atlas as a suite of capabilities aimed at bolstering New York’s small-business community.

Through problem- and user-centered efforts, the Business Atlas is now making important insights available to stakeholders who can put it to meaningful use—from how long it takes to open a restaurant in the city to which areas are most in need of education and outreach to improve their code compliance. This chapter considers the open data environment from which the Business Atlas was launched, details the initial version of the Business Atlas and the lessons it generated and describes the pivot to this new approach….(More)”.